Background Briefing on Burma

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
Via Teleconference
New York, NY
September 23, 2009

OPERATOR: Welcome, and thank you for standing by. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. During the question and answer session, please *1 on your touchtone phone. Today’s conference is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time.

Now, I will turn the call over to Mr. Crowley. He may begin.

Date: 09/23/2009 Description: Secretary Clinton attends the Friends of Burma Ministerial, at the United Nations Headquarters.  © State Dept Image by Michael GrossMR. CROWLEY: Good evening, P.J. Crowley from the State Department here. Thanks for joining in. As you know, we’ve been reviewing our Burma policy for several months. This evening, Secretary Clinton provided an intervention at the UN, at the Friends of Burma meeting. Afterwards, I would call your attention to some comments that she made in the stakeout area. And here, to provide some additional perspective for what she announced, we have a Senior State Department Official who will conduct kind of a background briefing. We also tonight will – we hope – we expect to release the full text of the Secretary’s intervention, which will explain a lot of things in detail, and I expect we’ll have an on-the-record briefing, probably tomorrow in Washington, to lay out our new policy approach.

But here to provide some perspective for what you’ve heard today, I’ll turn it over to the Senior State Department Official.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Hello. Thanks, P.J. I’ll just start off maybe with a few minutes of comments and then be happy to take your questions.

You all know that the Secretary announced in February in Jakarta that we would begin this policy review. And I think it’s really important to remember what she said at that point, which is that we have a strong interest in Burma and that our goals were to see a democratic and peaceful and prosperous Burma, and that the purpose of the policy review was not really to look at those goals, which remain constant, but rather, to see if there was a more effective way of achieving those goals.

And she said at that time, as you’ll recall, that neither a sanctions-based policy or ASEAN’s approach of engagement had worked, and so it was appropriate to look at some new ideas and see if we could come up with a better way. And the policy review has been going on, as you know. There was some slowdown in the process because when the Burmese arrested Aung San Suu Kyi and put her on trial, it went on for quite a while. It seemed to us we wanted to await the outcome of that before coming to our conclusions. And we’re now at that point of coming to the conclusions, and as P.J. said, we’ll be rolling them out in the next day or two.

The Secretary provided an intervention today, as he said, that did not go into details, but that highlighted the main conclusions. The points I would emphasize – again, I’ve already said it, but it’s so important, I want to emphasize it – again, that the goals of our Burma policy remain the same – a democratic, peaceful, prosperous Burma that respects the rights of its people. And that toward that end, we will continue to push and work toward release of political prisoners, a genuine dialogue between the government and the opposition and the ethnic minority parties that allows the people of Burma to shape their own democratic future.

And toward that end, we will be using a mix of policy tools. Sanctions remain important, as the Secretary said today, an important tool. By themselves, they have not produced the results we would like, but that does not mean they don’t have value. And also dialogue, as well as continuing things that help the people of Burma – humanitarian assistance, those sorts of things. So going forward, we can expect to use a mix of tools.

And I have to stress we’re going into this with eyes wide open. We’re not expecting dramatic, immediate results. This is a problem in Burma. I mean, the military’s been in power since 1962. We have been working hard at this for many, many years. It’s not an easy situation to resolve, and it’s unlikely that there’s going to be dramatic change soon. But we think that going forward with a more nuanced approach that focuses on trying to achieve results and that’s based on pragmatism, it increases the chances of success over time.

Well, I think I’ll stop there and take your questions.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We will now begin the question-and-answer session. If you would like to ask a question, please press *1. Please unmute your phone and record your name clearly when prompted. Your name is required to introduce your question. To withdraw your request, press *2. Once again, as a reminder, if you’d like to ask a question, press *1. One moment while we wait for the first question.

Our first question comes from Mr. Dave McCombs. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hello. Yes, I’d like to ask whether this policy review is based on any regional changes, any change in the view of Burma’s relations with other countries in the region and whether or not any changes would be unilateral?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s a good question. I’d say two things. One, throughout this process of the policy review, we’ve been in close consultation not only with people in the United States that follow Burma, but also with the countries in the region, as well as others who are interested in Burma.

I wouldn’t say that the review or the results of the review are necessarily based on any change in Burma’s relations with other countries. The one thing I would note is that we have heard from the Burmese, fairly clearly over the last several months, for the first time – at least for the first time in many years – an interest in engaging with us and improving relations with us. And so it seems to us useful to see if we can use that interest to advance our goals.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Mr. John Pomfret. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m wondering whether you plan any meetings with senior Burmese officials on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, or, for that matter, soon, whether here or in Burma?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: At this point, we’re still looking at that. We’re putting, as I said, the finishing touches and we’ll be coming out in – with more details in the next few days. And what I would say is that we will certainly let you know if we do have such a meeting.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh, if I can just add on that, there was one report that Kurt Campbell would be seeing the prime minister of Burma. That, I can tell you, is not the case, but I won’t say anything more at this point.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Mr. Matthew Lee. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Yeah. I’m wondering if you could just – I mean, thank you for this. And what you said is interesting, but it – essentially, it doesn’t really flesh out so far, at least, what the Secretary said. Can you explain exactly how you’re going to be engaging with the Burmese leadership?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think, again, we’ll be coming out in the next – probably tomorrow or the next day --

QUESTION: Right, but she --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- and saying on the record with more detail --

QUESTION: Right. But you’re on background now.


QUESTION: I was hoping --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think, basically, we’ll be talking to them. And I would emphasize that we talked to the Burmese already. So --

QUESTION: So how is this – so can I ask, then, how is this any different? I mean, yes, you have an embassy with a chargé there.


QUESTION: They have an embassy with at least a chargé, and probably an ambassador in Washington. So if you’re already talking to them, what is the significance of the Secretary saying, on the record, that you’re going to be engaging directly with the Burmese authorities? How is that going to take place?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, we will be coming out with more details on that. We don’t --

QUESTION: Has it not been decided yet? I’m not – I guess I’m not understanding – if you’re on background and you’re talking about, yes, you’re going to go and announce something on the record, why can’t you flesh out what the Secretary said to us already on the record?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. We expect the Burmese will be designating someone who would be an interlocutor for us. And so we have to just kind of take it one step at a time.

QUESTION: Okay. And would you expect to reciprocate?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, we will certainly have someone who would be available to talk. But we’re – I don’t know that we’re going to designate, officially, an interlocutor.

QUESTION: Well, because that job is – the job exists already, but --


QUESTION: -- it’s been unfilled.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, certainly, separately, we do – under the law, of course we are obligated and expect to name the special envoy for Burma. And that process is underway, but a person hasn’t been named, as you know.

QUESTION: Okay. So what you’re talking about is something separate from the special envoy post that what’s-his-name was going to take, but then – that was appointed in the last few days of the Bush (inaudible).


QUESTION: So this – so you’re talking about they’re going to designate someone who will talk to you, and you’re going to designate someone who will be available to talk to them, but that person is not necessarily going to – or is not going to be the special envoy who’s obligated by – that you’re obligated to have by law?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Well, I would say it this way. At this point, we don’t have a special envoy named, so obviously that person can’t be – isn’t available to start talking. I would say when that person is named, I’m sure we will look at whether that person is the right person to talk to the Burmese.

QUESTION: Okay. And lastly --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: But since we don’t have someone now, it’s not really an option.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, do you – is that something that you expect to be announcing tomorrow, or is that something that’s further --






QUESTION: Okay. All right. Thank you very much.


OPERATOR: Again, as a reminder, if you would like to ask a question, please press *1. Our next question or comment comes from Mr. Arshad Mohammed. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, two things. Can you, at a minimum, at least, tell us that the engagement that you plan to have going forward will be at a higher level than the engagement that you’ve had in the past?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sorry, that noise was – I think I understood you – the question was whether the engagement would be at a higher level?

QUESTION: Than it has been in recent years. And secondly, can you give us – you know, the Secretary said that the sanctions are important. Can you tell us that – whether or not you have any intentions of removing any of the current sanctions or of adding any additional sanctions?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. Sorry, there was a lot of feedback on the line. Yeah, I think the engagement will be at a higher level and – than it has been. And I think on terms of sanctions, the Secretary said sanctions are a useful tool, but by themselves are not sufficient. I think we’ve been clear for – even in the past, that the sanctions are in place to try to achieve a goal. And certainly, if we – if Burma made progress toward addressing our concerns on the core political issues, certainly I think we would look at sanctions. But at this point, they haven’t made any such progress.

QUESTION: So is it fair to say that then, at this point, you have no intention of removing any of the current sanctions?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I would put it this way. If we made any – were to make any adjustments going forward, it would be based on tangible progress by Burma.

QUESTION: Thank you.


QUESTION: Got it. So they move first, not you.



OPERATOR: Again, as a reminder, if you would like to ask a question, please press *1. One moment while we wait for any incoming questions. I am showing no further questions at this time.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. Thank you. Thank you very much.

OPERATOR: Thank you. This concludes today’s conference. Thank you for your participation. You may disconnect at this time.

PRN: 2009/T12-15